Researching Colleges

Social Media, its Tools, and the College Selection Process

Social Media, its Tools, and the College Selection Process

For the millennial generation, social media is virtually a birthright; over two thirds use social media to gain a sense of which colleges to apply to, and around a third, once accepted, use social media to narrow down their list to a solid match.  


Finding the Best Professors

Finding the Best Professors

When boiling down the college experience to its essence, students usually best remember getting to know one or two professors who were pivotal in sparking their curiosity and jumpstarting their motivation.

Richard Light of Harvard School of Education in his Making the Most of College, Students Speak Their Minds, describes the factors that define faculty who ‘make a difference.’ Professor Light interviewed over 1400 students to isolate his list of important factors

Go Midwest Young Man

Go Midwest Young Man
Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune in 1871 told RL Sanderson, a correspondent, to go West, ‘where men are wanted, and where employment is not bestowed as alms.’ Had Mr. Greeley been around today, and the question was finding solid educational opportunities, he might well have altered his direction to the Midwest.

Working with Professors

Working with Professors

No matter how intelligent, clever, or driven students might be, the most important factor governing their success academically and professionally is how they interact with their fellow students and professors.

Andrew Roberts, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern and author of The Thinking Student’s Guide to Colleges: 75 Tips for getting a Better Education, details how universities deliver an education. W

The Right Fit

The Right Fit

What is the right college fit and, how will you know it when you try it on?

A lot of factors compose a ‘right fit’: size, location, academics, housing, costs, social life, extracurricular, even the personality of the campus. While it would be nice to be scientific and run around each campus with a clipboard recording what is appealing and revolting, possibly it’s best to just trust your gut. If you’ve visited a number of campuses and met dozens of students during your odyssey, you’ll know. Let instinct rule.    

Best Practices of a Student-Focused University

Though heavy research and publishing demands might constrain faculty teaching efforts, many universities are becoming more effective at encouraging undergraduate learning by implementing ‘best practices.’

Research into best undergraduate educational practices by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU)  yielded a list of ten: 1st Year Seminars; Required Common Courses; Learning Communities; Writing Intensive Courses; Collaborative Projects; Undergraduate Research; Global Learning; Community-Based Learning; Internships; and, Capstone Projects. The full list, along with a quick synopsis of each practice, can be downloaded at the AACU website:   

When researching a college, a rule of thumb is the more ‘best practices’ offered, the more engaged its undergraduates are and the better prepared they will be upon graduation.    

Of the ten best practices, five, which might be considered the paramount ‘best practices,’ are frequently found at many schools, at least many of the schools I have researched over the last year, and warrant more detail:

First Year Seminars: While some first year seminars might cover orientation or study skills, most are geared towards small seminar classes consisting of fewer than 15 students, taught by a professor, featuring specific topics or readings that require close examination, discussion, analysis, and extensive writing assignments. The small size encourages participation, frequent encounters with the professor, and again, lots of writing that is carefully developed and critiqued. The 2009 National Survey on First-Year Seminars notes over 87% of universities currently offer 1st year seminars. Brown University, for example, has dozens of 1st year seminars for its freshmen. Many state universities, especially Honor’s Programs such as Barrett’s Honors College at Arizona State University, offer first year seminars as well.

Writing-intensive Courses:   The importance of learning to write well, and extensively, cannot be overemphasized. Richard Light, a professor from Harvard’s School of Education, draws a direct correlation between the amount of writing in a course and its level of student engagement.  Student writing doesn’t need to be restricted to just a course, but can and should be interdisciplinary. Most universities also have writing centers that supply aid to all undergraduates in need: Swarthmore College’s writing center will assist in anything from a 5-paragraph essay to an esoteric physics research paper.

Undergraduate Research:  If you’re planning to apply to medical school, or most graduate programs for that matter, conducting undergraduate research is essential. Learning how research is funded, conducted, and published is fast becoming the rite of passage in many undergraduate schools. Most of the departments in Boston University offer numerous opportunities for undergraduate research. Pomona College and Swarthmore require all undergraduates to conduct independent research with a faculty mentors before graduating.

Internships: Gaining internships with companies or institutions prior to graduation is also fast becoming the rigor at many schools. Over 86% of Clarkson College’s (NY) recent graduating class participated in internships. Some, such as Northeastern (MA) and Kalamazoo (MI), have full-fledged coop programs that integrate work experience into their curriculum. In departments such as communication at Northwestern and Boston College, working in the media is expected by majors before the end of junior year. The more internships/work experience students gain, the better.

Capstone courses and projects:  Mastery of a subject is best demonstrated through an honor’s thesis, comprehensive exams, and independent projects requiring application of core concepts of a discipline. Reed College requires most its undergraduates take a comprehensive exam in their junior year followed by a capstone research thesis that is presented and defended before a panel of professors from Reed and outside universities. In essence a bachelor’s from Reed signifies capabilities similar to those of PhDs.

The more rigorous the ‘best practices’ offered by universities you have under the microscope, the better prepared you will be to meet and surmount the challenges encountered beyond college

Best results arise from best practices: they’re worth looking for in any college under consideration.

Tips for Successfully Transitioning to University

How does a fledgling student spend her time within a university to gain a better education?

Andrew Roberts, an assistant professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, addresses this very question in his The Thinking Student’s Guide to College, 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education, He begins by explaining how a university works,  how to best approach professors, and how to work within the university to derive the best education.

If you are about to launch your undergraduate career, read it. The tips surrounding ‘Choosing a Major’ alone are worth the price: sample a lot of departments, choose a major you love, preferably one of the smaller majors, make sure the major is well structured, write a senior thesis, and attend a departmental lecture weekly. Solid advice abounds. Here are a few choice portions warranting review.  

The first question all students need to know is ‘How does a University Work?” I suppose a mission statement is vaguely helpful, but to discover the true mission of anything is to follow the money. At many universities, that money is being spent on research. The reason is research, through awards (such as the Nobel Prize), publications, citations, peer reviews (p.11 Roberts) is easy to track and prestigious. As Professor Roberts makes eminently clear, universities have an insatiable thirst for ‘prestige.’ Teaching is not discounted, but it’s very difficult to measure its efficacy, or assign it prestige.

Teaching undergraduates is something most tenured professors perform, and some make considerable efforts to do it well, yet, most professors aren’t trained in teaching. Professor Roberts cites a survey indicating “only 8% of professors have taken advantage of research on teaching methods.” (P.15 Roberts)

Regardless of how attentive a university might be to undergraduate education, Professor Roberts tips you off on how to gain the most from the class offerings. During the class shopping period (usually the first two weeks of the semester) visit multiple classes and trust your gut on your impressions of the syllabus and professor. Search among the classes by taking a variety of subjects and venturing into areas that initially might not appear of interest. Steer clear of the big lecture classes (they’re often a bad value) and take smaller, seminar like classes with hefty writing requirements. Also, fill your schedule with as many upper division, or graduate level classes as you can handle. That is where most of the high quality teaching and learning takes place. One other piece of information offered by Professor Roberts is to ask some of your professors what classes they recommend: they know where the gems are hidden.

It’s important to get to know at least one or two professors well during your college career. You’ll invariably need a recommendation whether you go on to graduate school or join the workforce. The best way to get to know a professor is to show an interest in the professor’s field of research and study. Visiting each of your professors during office hours is one good way to build credibility among a department. Surprisingly, few undergraduates do this, and even fewer are prepared to chat about the subject material knowledgeably when they do show up. Doing this will show you have initiative and intellectual curiosity, two attributes always in short supply.  

A professor’s existence is her work. If you take an active interest in knowing portions of her research, and show a capable understanding and appreciation of her specialty, that will help you gain credibility and improve your chances for being mentored in independent research projects, getting recommended for internships, or even working with a professor as a research assistant. A lot builds upon getting to know your professors; besides, many are brilliant and intriguing individuals—making their acquaintance that much more appealing.  

Understanding a university, and how it works, and in particular how to develop a working relationship with some of its professors is probably more valuable than most of the courses you’ll attend. In any field of work, knowing the institution and the people is never an easy matter. Learn to do this as an undergraduate, under the tutelage of Andrew Roberts, and you’re likely to gain a better education in university and life.

The Allure of Out of State College Opportunities

Less than 14% of high school students attend college out of state. Cost considerations, proximity to friends and family, and climate deter many from going too far afield, but having an adventurous spirit might pay dividends in the world of colleges. Outside the golden state an assortment of public schools, private research universities, and liberal arts colleges seek to enroll Californians. These schools behoove your investigation.  

The RACC (Regional Admissions Counselors of California) is a cross section of regional admissions officers from such schools as the University of Glasgow (Scotland), University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), Lafayette (PA) and Northeastern (MA). Many have gorgeous campuses, competitive tuition, hundreds of majors, honors programs, non-impacted nursing programs, and even four-year graduation guarantees (such as the University of Minnesota). Best of all, they want Californians on their campuses.

True, some of the public out-of-state schools want to get you on to their campuses simply because you will be paying out-of-state tuition, and this can get expensive. Though, as mentioned in a previous column, through WUE, Western University Exchange, schools charge only 150% in-state tuition for Californians. Getting accepted under the WUE program at Montana State in Bozeman costs less than $8,000 annually in tuition, versus over $18,000 for full out-of-state tuition.

Several flagship public universities are already composed of substantial portions of out-of-state students. The University of Vermont, for instance, is 75% out-of-state students; University of North Dakota (a WUE member) 67%; and University of Colorado, Boulder, over 40%.  A number of schools in the Northeast and Midwest are joining Vermont’s lead in the search for out-of-state students because the number of high school graduates in their region of the country is declining. University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Rutgers (NJ), and SUNY campuses (State University of New York) are all increasing their portion of out-of-state students.

The flow of Californians venturing out is becoming pronounced. Last year Washington State, which has a superb pre-veterinarian program, doubled the number of Californians it enrolled to 132, while the University of Arizona and Arizona State each had more than 1,000 California freshmen. University of Oregon, a third of whose football team is composed of Californians, enrolled over a 1,000 Californians in its 2011 freshman class; that’s double the number from five years ago.   Some marquee schools have doubled their number of Californian enrollments over the last decade as well, including NYU, whose recent freshman class had 600 California students, along with Wesleyan (CT), and Williams (MA).

Private research universities and liberal arts colleges seek California students to secure a national body of students. Prestige factors into the equation. Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, one of the top research universities in the country, offered six figure scholarships and grants to California applicants over the last three years. Geographic diversity helps their recruiting and, possibly, their US News ratings. Coming from outside a school’s traditional recruiting range, renders you special. Lynn O’Shaughnessy in her second edition of The College Solution mentions that her Californian daughter enrolled at Beloit College in Wisconsin and was featured in a guide for prospective students; after all, if a girl from San Diego attends Beloit that shows the allure of Beloit.

The reasons to join this migration are as many as there are graduates from California high schools. Beyond the golden state there are schools that graduate high percentages of students in four years, have available seats in what are high-impacted majors in the Cal State or UC systems, and have programs or grants/scholarship/work study aid to offset some of the costs—thereby bringing many of their costs into parity with the ever escalating costs of California state schools. Don’t dismiss the entreaties beyond the golden fence: create more options and unfold to the undiscovered. 

Questioning the Value of the Bachelor’s Degree

The confluence of rising tuition, increasing student debt, and declining employment opportunities for recent graduates is raising questions about the value of a bachelor’s degree. These concerns have been around for years, but the good news is there are rays of hope in the form of tuition rates beginning to freeze or even contract. Better still, over the next five years, expect the use of online classes to snowball across the postsecondary universe. Institutions that fail to respond will, in all likelihood, start to fall to the wayside—unless the size of their endowments insulates them.

Since 1983, annual postsecondary costs have risen at five times the rate of inflation, meaning what had cost $5,000 in 1983 now costs $60,000. Consequently, over two-thirds of students have had to take out loans. Currently, the average student debt load is $26,000. Total student debt now tops $1 trillion dollars.

The United States spends more of its GDP on higher education than any other developed country, yet the US ranks 15th in the number of university graduates per capita. Worse, a federal survey discovered the literacy of college graduates declined between 1992 and 2003. Only a quarter were considered proficient in using the printed word to learn and solve problems. Almost a third of students had taken courses that required fewer than 40 pages of reading a term. 

During the fall of 2012, 40% of private universities saw their enrollment ebb, with over a third witnessing it dive by 5% or more.   By the end of last year’s admissions cycle, 15% of the colleges reported space was still available. In the public universities, state funding has dipped by over 10%, while tuition rates have risen into the double digits, reducing the number of high school graduates enrolling by 4% over the last two years. Even at community college, enrollment, which has risen 22% since 2007, dropped 1% last year.

To combat declining enrollment, the University of California recently announced a tuition freeze, with a UCI graduate petitioning to ban tuition increases on students already enrolled. The University of Arizona and ASU, after five years of increases surpassing 80%, froze tuitions. The Iowa Board of Regents, the Universities of Minnesota, Massachusetts, Texas, Austin, and New Hampshire all joined in freezing rates. On the private school side, the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee actually reduced tuition by 10% and Concordia University (MN) reduced tuition by a third. Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, is discounting tuition by 50% for incoming freshmen to its school of education. Outside the most selective branded elite institutions, the days of unlimited tuition increases appear to be ending (though even the venerable Mount Holyoke, in MA, elected not to raise fees this year).

To address tuition costs, and impacted registration, colleges are augmenting their investments in online learning, especially through ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCS) as a means to teach thousands calculus or physics. The ability to scale classes and courses can easily be done online. The University of California system through UC Online Education offers online courses for credit (for both UC and non-UC students). A coalition of western states set up the Western Governors University (WGU), which provides an enormous selection of courses and majors, tailored to the student’s schedule, with most students gaining a degree in two and a half years (with annual tuition under $6,000), rather than the six years which is the timeframe, on average, for only 57% to achieve a bachelors. MITx will be offering certifications in particular skills online. Khan Academy, an online free tutorial site, had over 41 million visits in the US alone in 2012, which speaks volumes to the efficacy of online educational delivery.

The existing higher education model is undergoing tectonic changes. The transition is already underway. If there is any place in the world that can shake the inertia of the ivory towers into willful action, it is in these United States. As Churchill remarked, “The Americans will always do the right thing…after they have exhausted all the alternatives.” We’re still exhausting the alternatives, but not for much longer.

How to Gain the Most from the Undergraduate Years


  • Karen Kelsky encourages students to be skeptics
  • Ask all colleges about how well their recent graduates have done
  • Don’t be ‘dazzled’ by college’s reputation
  • Students should become entrepreneurial

An article recently published by Karen Kelsky, a former professor of anthropology from the University of Illinois, while ostensibly tailored to graduate students, “Graduate School is a Means to a Job,” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 March 2012) is actually even more applicable to future undergraduate students. Ms. Kelsky is not shy about having students ask universities to prove their utility. Encouraging such skepticism should be lauded. No institution, no matter how august, should be charging $30-60,000 without being constantly questioned. Here is a cross section of some of her ideas, slightly modified for undergraduates.  

  1. If students are planning to enroll in a pre-professional track (e.g. pre-med), it’s absolutely essential to ask what type of record the school has for getting students into quality medical schools. Selecting, or being assigned an advisor, also needs to be vetted. How successful has this advisor been in getting his or her students into graduate programs, internships, jobs after college, or meaningful undergraduate research projects?
  2. Before accepting an admissions offer to a school, students should take time to review professors in key departments of interest, on This review should extend to the school’s majors, minors, honors, and independent research offerings. If the school under consideration is private, don’t be deterred by the sticker price; many private schools have an array of scholarships and grants to offset its higher costs. If a school’s department, facilities, and faculty are a good match, and its financial aid awards historically have been generous (which can be found on College Navigator), that school is a meaningful option in the student’s admissions process.  
  3. Don’t be ‘dazzled by abstract institutional reputations’ of elite colleges. Students should only be concerned with finding schools that have the best placement rates, either for leading graduate schools or jobs, or whether the school’s curriculum, faculty, and writing seminars truly teach vital communication and thinking skills. Parenthetically, most of the Ivy League faculties, according to, have significantly lower performance numbers than many of the liberal arts schools (such as Swarthmore, Pomona College, or Amherst) and a number of public schools as well.   Performance with its recent graduates is all that matters: reputation and brand are not all that important.  
  4. Students need to become entrepreneurial before entering college, or certainly soon after. They need to apply for as many sources of financial support as possible. They also need to realize as their undergraduate years unfold ‘the law of increasing returns’. Getting a summer internship, might then lead to a position with a stipend the next year, which might then lead to a meaningful research project, which will all build measurable experience on student activity lists over the course of their undergraduate years.
  5. While in college, students should take advantage of any opportunities to present their work to as wide an audience as possible. If any public speaking opportunities avail themselves, they should participate. Public speaking is a core skill for any profession.
  6. Students want to become polished and capable as they approach the finish of their undergraduate years. They need to develop a ‘professional persona’ that will establish them as ‘…confident, assertive, sophisticated, and outspoken.”  They will also need to banish excessive humility; ‘it inspires contempt.’ It also gets in the way of cultivating recommendations from key professors within the school; such recommendations are critical in future career or graduate school pursuits—they are the lifeblood of the undergraduate experience.

Admittedly, few undergraduate students will follow all or even a majority of the above suggestions. Reading them, however, and attempting to implement just one, might prove the difference in creating a productive and successful college experience.  Ms. Kelsky advocates students be assertive, self-reliant, and decisive. This will serve them well, long after their college years have ended.   


대학생활에서 최상의 것을 얻는 방법 

  • Karen Kelsky의 조언: 비판적일 것
  • 대학에게 졸업생의 결과에 대해 묻기
  • 대학의 명성에 눌리지 말 것
  • 기업가적 정신을 가질 것

University of Illinois의 전 인류학과 교수인 Karen Kelsky는 최근 기고 (Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 March 2012), “대학원은 직장을 위한 곳이다”에서 대학원생들에게 조언을 하고 있는데, 사실 대학생에게도 적용되는 글이다.  Ms.Kelsky는 학생들이 대학에게 그 유용성을 주저없이 묻기를 권한다.  이런 비판적인 질문은 정말 필요하다.  어떤 학교도 이런 질문에 대답없이 3만 -6만불을 받아서는 안되는 것이다.  그녀의 글을 응용하여 대학생에게 다음과 같이 권고하고자 한다.

  1. 만약 학생이 전문적인 pre-med과정에 등록하려 한다면, 그 학교에서 좋은 의과대학에 학생들을 진학시켰는지 물어야 한다.  어드바이저를 정해주는지도 알아 보아야 한다.  또한 상담교수가 대학원 프로그램, 인턴십, 직장, 리서치 프로젝트에 대해 얼마나 도움이 되는지도 알아보아야 한다.
  2. 입학을 수락하기 전, 교수 수준을 RateMyProfessor.com에서 알아보아야 한다.  이 리뷰는 전공, 부전공, 우등프로그램, 리서치 제공에 까지 이른다.  만약 사립대학을 고려한다면, 등록금 때문에 포기하지말길 바란다.  많은 사립에서 장학금과 그랜트를 제공하고 있다.  만약 학과, 시설, 교수가 좋다면, 그 대학의 재정능력도 우수하다(College Navigator에서 조사할 것).  그런 대학은 정말 선택할 가치가 있다.
  3. 엘리트 대학의 명성에 눌리지 말아야 한다.  그것보다는 졸업후의 진로 (대학원이든, 직장이든)가 좋은지, 대학의 교과과정, 교수진, 작문세미나가 진정 의사소통기술과 사고력을 발달시키는지에 더 관심을 두어야 한다.  첨가하면, RateMyProfessor.com에서 아이비리그의 교수들도 인문대학(Swarthmore, Pomona College, Amherst)의 교수에 비해 아주 낮은 평가를 받는 교수들이 있다.  최근 졸업생들의 결과가 중요하다: 명성과 이름은 그렇게 중요한 것이 아니다.
  4. 학생들은 대학에 들어가기 전부터 기업가적 정신을 가져야 한다.  재정적 지원에 대해서도 잘 알아야 한다.  또한 대학에 들어가는 돈이 ‘보상의 법칙’을 따라 나타나는지도 알아보아야 한다.  여름 인턴십을 한다면, 내년 학비를 조달할 수 있는지 살펴야 한다.  또한 리서치 프로젝트를 한다면, 수강과목 이상으로 할동영역에 경험으로 사용될 수 있을 것이다.
  5. 대학에 다니는 동안, 어떤 경험이든 자신의 일을 널리 홍보할 수 있는 기회로 삼아야 한다.  공개 연설의 기회가 있다면, 무조건 참여하면서 자신을 나타내야 한다.  공개 연설은 어떤 직업에서든 핵심기술이다.
  6. 대학을 졸업할 때는 세련되고 능력있는 사람이 되어야 한다.  ‘자신감있는, 확신에 찬, 세련된, 거침없이 말하는…’등의 ‘전문적인 모습’을 갖추어야 한다.  겸손이란 경멸만 불러일으킬 뿐이다.  또한 대학에서 중요 교수에서 추천을 받을 수 있는 길을 만들어야 한다; 추천은 직장이나 대학원 진학에 필수적이다-그들이 대학 경험에서 생명선이 된다.

확실히 대학생이 위의 모든 것이나 대부분을 지키기는 어렵다.  그러나 한 가지라도 실천한다면, 성공적이고 생산적인 대학생활을 누릴 것이다.  Ms. Kelskey는 학생들이 적극적이고, 자신감있고, 결단력있게 행동해야 함을 강조한다.  그렇다면, 대학생활을 마친 후, 평생동안 그들은 잘 될 것이다.